Having spent a good couple of hours in the garage this evening (no parts left over – huzzah!) I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time: go out for a ride on a Sunday, in the UK. Let’s see how much it just isnt like the south of France. Leaving early the next day I stopped off at the local market for a pork roll and some supermarket own-brand instant coffee. People watching is so much better here than in meditteranean cities, in fact it’s a bit like going on safari. Families with 4 or 5 kids, all wearing variations of the same tired Adidas chavsuits and white trainers as the parents, spraying each other with partially masticated bacon roll and “Fuck off Mum, Dad’ll buy it me” while Asians look on silently from behind rows of 3-for-a-fiver knock-down knock-offs. The market organisers have it sussed: only one picnic table opposite each grease wagon, but plenty of amusements for the kids to work off the fizzy drinks, leaving the grown ups to their Rothmans and arguments. The overweight guy manning the bouncy castle from inside what looks like a topless commode looks familiar – he’s the one who nearly ran me over as I parked the bike, barging past in his ageing bottom of the Range Rover, all sneers and sovereigns. I go for a walk before he sees me laughing.
A bit of what you want, more of what you need. Markets sell all kinds of stuff and it’s dangerous to philosophise too much about the punters from the wares. In the Haute Provence markets are full of local produce, farmers rubbing shoulders with bee keepers and cheese makers to bring home a crust. The result is usually a rainbow display of colourful smells and buzzing conversation, a place to shop and meet. My local market is evidently much the same, but there’s no organic produce or fragrant spices. No, we’ve got Dr. Dre Beats headphones at £20 a pair (of course they’re real) and acres of faded household products like detergent and window cleaner in cardboard boxes on the floor. I want to take a picture but fear I’ll get my head stoved in, maybe it’s time to leave anyway.
Trickling west I end up in Marlborough and decide on a spot of lunch in a pub on the main drag. The barman’s confused when I ask if he’s still serving food, apparently somebody else wearing my clothes has just asked the same thing before walking out. Yellow and black BMW twat-suits must be getting more popular. A family occupies the next table and the teenage son has a couple of friends along, also carrying motorcycle helmets. He’s recounting the various merits of his ZX-6R to his parents to enthusiastic nods from his peers, and as I put my jacket on to leave I hear the words ‘BMW guy’ between sniggers. I know exactly what he’s thinking and it makes me feel old – how easily we slip into being the stereotypes we used to poke fun at. Still, there’s a reason why you don’t see many older guys in jeans and trainers riding sports bikes. I cross the road to grab a bottle of water from the offie and when I get back to the GS matey and his pals are just getting back on their bikes, then tearing up the high street. BMW guy or statistic?
After lunch I take it easy and loop back north-east on smaller roads until I see a ‘byway’ sign I just can’t resist. The track is only about a mile long but skirts the edge of a woodland overlooking picture-postcard fields, so I stop for a bit and take it all in while my head fills with nothing. No ZX-6s here, but there is a jogger, and just as I’m braced for another You Shouldn’t Be Here assault he grins and offers me his hand. A nice-bike-mate opener turns into a 5 minute conversation about the trail bikes he used to ride, and how much he’d love something like a GS if only his legs were longer. Funny how a good encounter can restore your faith in people whom you’d be willing to write off based on the actions of their peers.
Buoyed by the meeting I take a few more trails around Compton and Aldworth, dropping onto the Ridgeway for a couple of miles. If there’s one good thing that’s come out of motor vehicles being slowly removed from non-surfaced public roads they’ve been legally entitled to enjoy since their conception, it’s that the few remaining byways are clearly marked, letting everybody know what types of traffic they can expect to encounter. I’m in luck – this part of the Ridgeway is open to vehicles in the summer until 1st October, but that doesn’t stop a couple of mountain bikers from scowling at my good afternoons. Never mind, they’ll feel less self-righteous once the bobble hat brigade shift their focus. What goes around comes around.
Maybe it’s the play of shadow and light across the Wiltshire countryside before me, maybe it’s the realisation that there’s not many decent weekends left this year before autumn closes in, but I’m struck by another isn’t-it-all-just-dandy moment. I’ve really enjoyed myself today; breakfast at the market, big open roads, tight little lanes, and now an impromptu trail ride. How many other bikes can do all of the above and still be comfortable, still make you want more at the end of the day? I really can’t imagine riding anything else.